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Berlusconi says he world's most popular leader

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi looks on before his meeting with Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe in Rome's Palazzo Chigi April 30, 2009. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

NAPLES (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has compared himself to Jesus Christ and Napoleon, boasted on Friday that he was the world’s most popular leader.

The conservative premier, in his third term in office, said opinion poll findings in his possession showed his popularity at just over 75 percent, making him far more popular than U.S. President Barack Obama -- or any other head of government.

“The opinion polls I know say that he (Obama) is at 59 percent. Only (Brazilian President Luiz Inacio) Lula tops 60 percent -- he is at 64 percent. So mine is a record high,” he told reporters in Naples where he attended a May Day concert.

On his way out of the concert hall, the 72-year-old Berlusconi -- who has proclaimed himself the Jesus Christ of Italian politics and once said he was second only to Napoleon, except taller -- was heckled by protesters who shouted “Go Away!.”

Commentators agree Berlusconi enjoys high popularity ratings despite the economic crisis -- the International Monetary Fund expects Italy’s economy to contract by 4.4 percent this year -- although perhaps not as high as he claims.

A poll published last month by left-leaning La Repubblica daily said support for Berlusconi stood at 56 percent and had risen in April for the first time since October thanks to his hands-on response to a deadly earthquake.

Berlusconi, who regularly complains of unfair treatment by the media despite directly or indirectly controlling 90 percent of Italy’s television, put his own popularity at 75.1 percent.

“These are independent surveys, but they are not promptly published,” he said.

Reporting by Laura Viggiano; Editing by Richard Balmforth